“Six hours of hell for a boy (2) locked in” (Daily Sun, 02/06/2011, p. 2) identified a two-year-old boy who was a victim of alleged child neglect. The child was named and photographed twice in the article – once with his mother and the second time standing alone behind security bars. This article receives a MAD for violating the rights of the child by identifying him, alongside allegations of child neglect, a form of child abuse.

According to the article, a young mother – who was also named and pictured – left her child locked inside her house for six hours. Neighbours close by claimed they heard screaming from inside the house and went to find out what was happening. The young boy’s mother claimed she went to the doctor but the neighbours say she went to visit her boyfriend. Confusingly, the mother was not further accessed in order to allow her to explain why she had left her son alone, or defend herself against the allegations made by members of the community. The article therefore potentially vilifies the mother by portraying her as neglectful and careless. Notably, the lack of questioning of the father’s whereabouts in this circumstance was also prevalent in the article.

One of the photographs in the article shows the child holding onto security bars. The caption, which together with the image and the article raises various ethical questions, states that he was “calling out for help”. The article reports that neighbours “woke up to [the child’s] hysterical cries” and a man visiting the area who “couldn’t stand it anymore…went to see what was happening.” He then described the child on his arrival as “dirty, hungry, his nappy was full” and “decided to buy (food for the child) before calling Daily Sun to help.”

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is concerned as to why when a child’s life was in danger the man chose to call the media before calling the police. Although Daily Sun can not be faulted for decisions made by ordinary citizens, we further question why the journalist did not contact the police immediately and alert them to a call he/she had received claiming a young child had been left alone in a house and was crying uncontrollably as a result? The article reports that the child was locked in the house “from 8am until 2pm (after the mother had arrived)” which begs the question, why were the police only called after the mother had arrived (6 hours since the child was left alone)? Furthermore, how can the journalist possibly justify his/her decision to photograph a desperate child “calling out for help”; the value this image adds to the story, and given the ethical and legal considerations why Daily Sun chose to publish the image?

The article fails to address these questions and in fact, performs poorly in its efforts to report on a story of child neglect.

MMA and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) guidelines advise, “the dignity and rights of every child are to be respected in every circumstance”. The guidelines further state that “the best interests of each child are to be protected over any other consideration, including over advocacy for children’s issues and the promotion of child rights”.

MMA allocates a MAD to this article and the inappropriate photograph accompanying it, due to the fact that the rights of the child – as protected in these guidelines – were ignored.